Cocoa Cool: Adventurous Pairings for Chocolate

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by Courtney Cochran

courtneyCochran_profile.jpgLike the always-chic little black dress, chocolate never goes out of style.  Whether prepared in a winter-perfect soufflé format, drizzled over ice cream during the summer months or tucked into a decadent truffle that's perfect any season, chocolate gets it right every time.  Read on for tips on pairing wine with this timeless treat, as well as insights on some of the best spots to try your hand at wine and chocolate pairing in person.  
A Lighter Shade of Pale
When it comes to pairing chocolate with wine, texture is one of the most critical factors you'll want to consider.  Lighter chocolate dishes such as airy soufflés and macaroons work best with lighter dessert wines like northern Italy's Moscato d'Asti.  The bubbles in this widely available low-alcohol sparkler echo the airy texture of these treats while the orange flavors typical of the Muscat grape are always a home run with chocolate.

Cacao In the City
NYC-based Zoom Chocolate Tours (sweetwalks.com) offers Gotham visitors a gastronomic triple play in its Union Square Chocolate, Wine & Culture Tour.  For $80, participants learn first-hand about the cultural and chocolate history of the city, stopping along the way to taste the proof in the pudding, so to speak, at five local chocolate and pastry artisans.  Top shelf wines accompany the treats, making for a truly gourmet tour.

Big Is Beautiful
When it comes to pairings, the other side of the texture argument is - mostly - true.  The heartiest chocolate dishes - bread pudding and flourless chocolate cake come to mind - usually pair best with the most full-bodied stickies.  Unbelievably rich Australian Liqueur Muscats take the cake here (pun intended), unless the combo of rich with rich threatens to overwhelm, in which case Moscato d'Asti or another lightly sweet sparkler is a great foil.

Killing Me Softly
COPIA's annual Death By Chocolate (http://www.copia.org/content/chocolate) fête is a daylong celebration of the best cacao has to offer your palate.  The event - held each year in February - kicks off with a round of reservations-required presentations, including lessons on organic and fair trade chocolate as well as wine and chocolate pairing, and concludes with a decadent walk-around tasting of- what else?! -wine and chocolate.

Cool Kids
Ice cream - with its intense creaminess and high sugar content - calls out for a wine that's similarly sweet and backed by strong acidity to cut through the cream.  Ice wine - made from frozen grapes in Germany, Canada and some northern US states - is a perfect match for this cool treat.  Plus, ice wine's delicate flavors of tropical fruits, honey and citrus zest pair well with a wide variety of ice cream flavors, including chocolate, natch.

Virginia Ho!
Nestled beneath the breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia Mountain Vineyards (vmvines.com) offers guests a rotating roster of entertaining weekend events, including a Wine & Chocolate Pairing.  The first generation-owned vineyard and winery operation has been turning out dry and sweet table wines since shortly after its inception in 1998 and is conveniently located along the popular Botetourt County Wine Trail.  
 
winechocolate.jpg Rescue Reds
With all this talk of sweet and sparkling wines, you may be wondering when (if ever!) pairing chocolate with table wines is a good idea.  The good news is, some red table wines do mesh well with chocolate, but you'll need to pair them with chocolates that are relatively low in sugar or the wine will taste overly dry and metallic.  Dark or bitter chocolate is your best bet here, and it pairs best with young fruity reds like Cabernet and Zinfandel. 

Music (& More) In Mendo
The Mendocino Music Festival (mendocinomusic.com) offers a full roster of music-themed events each summer, including its June kick-off extravaganza, a Taste of Chocolate, Wine & Ale.  Held on the Kelley House Lawn on Main Street in downtown Mendocino, the event comprises a silent auction, live music and - naturally - a walk-around tasting amidst the quaint backdrop of this cozy northern California hamlet. 

Fruits of Your Labor
If your chocolate concoction comes with a fruit-based filler, topping or side, it's a good idea to seek out sweet wines that reflects this fruitiness.  Ruby Port and Port-style wines from Australia and California work swimmingly with rich desserts, while lightly fruity sparkling wines such as Italian Brachetto d'Acqui and French Bugey de Cerdons partner perfectly with lighter fruit-spiked fare.  Visit wine-searcher.com to find these wines.
 
DIY Degustation
If you're unable to track down a winery offering its own wine and chocolate pairing, take matters into your own hands and pick up a selection of artisan chocolates to create your own impromptu pairing.  You'll need to call ahead to verify that you can bring your own food onto a winery's premises, but once you've got the go-ahead settle into a picnic table or similar spot and take it away.  Tip:  A selection of light and dark chocolates is best.  Bon apétit!

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